The Dual Nature of the Progressive Era

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The Dual Nature of the Progressive Era One common misconception is to view the Progressive movement as a unified core of reform-minded crusaders dedicated to improving the social welfare of American society. While this viewpoint is not entirely incorrect, it is only a partial and thereby misleading assessment of the movement that categorized the early part of the nineteenth-century. What some may fail to appreciate is the duality of the period-the cry for social welfare reforms juxtaposed against the demand for optimum efficiency through scientific controls. Theoretically the two movements were compatible in nature, and under certain circumstances, perhaps even mutually dependent upon one another. One could argue that only a "clean", efficient, well-organized government would be financially able to provide such services as schools, purified milk stations, and public health care. In addition, a strong moral government would also possess the legislative power to enforce such legal reforms as the eradication of child labor, the enforcement of housing regulations, and the passage of health and sanitation codes. Conversely, it would take an educated, prosperous, healthy and stable citizenry to construct such a socially conscious government. Therefore, it would be natural to categorize the two groups under one large umbrella entitled Progressivism. Moreover, there are enough similar characteristics to warrant such a grouping. Both camps sought to bring order and stability to an increasingly complex and seemingly disorganized world; with each firmly believing that this orderliness could be achieved through a combination of strong governmental regulations, science, and an emerging class of professional experts. However, ... ... middle of paper ... ... to the educated mechanic or even the intelligent laborer it is not so when applied to the mentally sluggish". Thus, one can safely assume that there was little respect afforded to the worker in such a scientifically managed factory. Not only were the immigrants thought of as unintelligent, but there was also little value placed upon the individual experience that each might have brought to the task. In conclusion, there is ample evidence to support the theory that the nineteenth century Progressive movement was not a unified core of reform minded individuals. Although each sought to impose social order upon an increasingly complex and seemingly disorganized world, one group used the language of scientific management, maximum output and economic controls, while the other preached social justice, humanitarian reform and respect for the individuality of others.
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